I Love the Cold

12.2.2005 | 3:12 pm

Oh, this is such a cheap gimmick. Yesterday I talk about how much I hate riding in the cold, and now today I’m talking about how much I like riding in the cold. Ooooh, what an interesting contradiction! Clearly, it’s Amateur Literary Trick day at the Fat Cyclist blog.

So let me explain.

I rode my bike home yesterday after work. It was no longer snowing, but there were very few cars out. It was incredibly quiet and dark out as I rode through Marymoor Park. Luckily, there wasn’t much snow sticking to the road, and I could avoid that by riding closer to the center of the road than usual.

It was quiet. It was dark. It was cold. And the air felt sharp and clean against the back of my throat; it tasted great.


Fog Machine

As I rode up Inglewood Hill, I stood up, breathing hard. The fog from my mouth would go right into  the beam of my handlebar-mounted lights, and make a really cool, brightly illuminated cloud. I found myself blowing out further out into the beam, experimenting with how impressive of a light show I could put on. And for the first time ever, I forgot that I was climbing Inglewood Hill.



I stand by what I said yesterday: it’s a pain to get ready to ride in the cold. Once you’re out, though, it can be fun. In fact, one of the most memorable rides I’ve ever been on was in the snow. Rick Maddox and I took part of a day off from work to go ride up Squaw Peak in the middle of the winter. This four mile road is a brutally steep road bike workout in the summer, but it’s a snowmobiler’s and sledder’s paradise in the winter.

So Rick and I decided to find out whether we could bike it.

By letting practically all the air out of our tires to increase the size of our contact patches, we were able to — mostly — ride up. The trick was to stay in the most recent snowmobile tracks. It was slow going, but we warmed up soon; riding a steep climb with no air pressure in soft-packed snow is quite a workout. About three miles up, we ran out of snowmobile tracks to follow. It was time to turn around.

And thus began the goofiest three-mile descent of our lives.

We experimented with putting our weight forward to give us better steering and keeping out weight back to avoid auguring in. I think we finally decided on a balance in the middle. It didn’t really matter; at pretty much every turn one or both of us would wipe out, often into the other.

The thing is, though, wiping out on a bike is a lot of fun when it’s penalty-free. The snow was so forgiving and banked so high we could practice our snow mountain biking skills without fear. We’d ride for a few seconds, fishtail around a corner (or, more accurately, failing to make it around a corner), and wipe out, often with a little flourish to make it look good.

As we got closer to the bottom of the hill, we started coming across kids and parents on sleds. They stared at us openly. What were mountain bikers doing coming down this hill? We were too strange to be real. Rick and I kept riding, laughing and wiping out.


PS: Let’s Outfit Tayfur and Friends

Tayfur, the winner of yesterday’s bike bag, lives in Turkey. He loves bikes as much as any of us, but doesn’t have a lot of good cycling clothes. He tells me, in fact, that he knows of quite a few riders in his area who could use some good cycling clothes. So how about we help Tayfur and friends out.

Let’s send Tayfur our good unused bike clothes — shorts, jerseys, jackets, vests, gloves, socks, you name it. He’ll take what fits him, and distribute what doesn’t. Everybody wins.

How to do it

Just email me. If you want to send your stuff direct, I’ll give you his address. If you want to combine your stuff with a big package I’m putting together, I’ll give you my address. To keep things from being too obvious and therefore getting “lost” in customs, Tayfur recommends we send relatively small boxes. So if you don’t mind sending stuff yourself, that’d be great. Meaning, I’m OK with some out-of-pocket here, but I don’t want this to clean me out.

I don’t know about you, but I love the idea of a bunch of these jerseys I don’t use finding their way onto some cyclists’ backs.


I Hate the Cold

12.1.2005 | 8:04 pm

Three seasons out of the year, I love to get on my bike. But winter — by which I mean "the cold part of fall, all of winter, and the cold part of spring" — just sucks.

I’m sorry. I’m trying to have a positive attitude. Really. And I’m not saying I’m going to quit riding during the winter. I’m not. I plan to bundle up, layer upon layer, twice a day and bike into work on the icy roads, in the dark, in the blowing snow and /or freezing rain, with the bulk of clothing restricting me to the extent that I can barely turn my head, much less the cranks.

Sorry. I guess my attitude slipped again. It’s just that winter somehow takes one of the things I like best in the whole world — a light, fast, spontaneous, free adventure I can have every day — and turns it into a heavy, preparation-laden, sluggish, uncomfortable slog.

Before I continue, I should point out that anyone who leaves a bracing pep talk in the comment section today will be met with a snort of ridicule and a rolling of the eyes. Do we understand each other? Fine. Let’s move on.


Getting Started

Through most of the year, dressing for a ride is the simplest thing in the world. Shorts, jersey, socks, shoes, helmet, glasses, gloves. In that order (for me, at least). Let’s roll.

In the winter, though, it’s more like:

  • Look outside. Is it snowing? Raining? Is there ice on the road?
  • Go outside, try to get a sense of the temperature and whether it’s going to get warmer. Look at the clouds, trying to decide — if it’s not raining now — whether it will be soon.
  • Go back inside. Based on how cold and dark it is, ponder whether you really are all that committed to this idea of biking anyway. I mean, seriously. Wouldn’t it be nice to drive in today? You could listen to NPR — haven’t had much time for the news lately, it’d be good to catch up — and be all nice and warm when you get to work.
  • Banish demons. You’re going to ride.
  • Put on base layer.
  • Put on wool socks.
  • Put on more wool socks.
  • Put on tights.
  • Put on heavy jersey.
  • Put on shoes.
  • Put on shoe covers.
  • Put on jacket.
  • Put on gloves.
  • Put on more gloves.
  • Put on helmet.
  • Put on glasses.
  • Put on headband ear warmer jobby that muffles all sound and screws with your peripheral vision and in general makes you feel like you’re now in much greater danger of a collision.
  • Ask yourself, "Is there any possible way that any possible ride could be worth all the effort I just went through?"



When you ride in the cold, every breath hurts. And then your eyes start to water. And then the water running down your eyes starts to freeze.

Your face stops reacting properly. Your ears hurt. Your toes hurt…and then they stop hurting, because they’ve gone numb.

It doesn’t stay this bad, though. After a while, you warm up a little. You stop scrunching your face up to see whether it works, because you’ve come to accept that it doesn’t. Your legs warm up almost no matter how cold it is, because they’re working so hard. Apart from your nose, ears, toes, and fingers, biking’s fun again.

And that’s when you come to a stoplight.



As soon as you stop, your glasses fog. And then the nice little sweat you’ve worked up —evidence that you were finally starting to warm up — becomes instantly clammy. Time slows down. You start to shiver.

Ordinarily, I love looking into cars from my bike while I’m stopped at a light. I put on this smug little smile that says, "I’m going somewhere, just like you, but I’m exercising and having fun while I’m doing it. I am clearly smarter than you." When it’s cold, I look into those cars and can’t muster a smile. Car occupants, on the other hand, seem to have a smile for this occasion. It’s the smile that says, "I’m warm in my car and you’re cold on a bike, so you’re clearly as dumb as a bar of soap."



When it’s warm, I often finish a ride wishing for more. I do not believe I have ever had such a wish when finishing a ride in the cold. Instead, I come inside and stand in the shower until the hot water runs out or the feeling comes back into my toes: whichever occurs first.


Oh, I’ve Got Cold Credibility

I’m almost sure some of you are thinking, "Fatty is such a nancy-boy. What does he know about cold?" Well, I lived for Finland for two years, and rode a bike as my main mode of transportation during the winter for each of those two years. Also, I grew up at above 8,000 feet in a little town in Colorado. It frequently had the lowest temperatures in the nation, including Alaska. So, yes: I know a thing or two about living and riding in the cold.

And I’d rather ride when it’s warm.


PS: It’s snowing right now. You think I should ride my bike home today, or bail out and get a ride? Your opinion carries more weight if you either are facing the same question right now. If you are in Australia, your opinion carries no weight whatsoever.


PPS: The winner of yesterday’s contest is Tayfur Yagci of Turkey. The fact that he’s racing with what he’s got impresses me no end. Here’s what Tayfur had to say:


I have one simple recommendation for all that stuff: Give some to me! I especially need: A long sleeve jersey, some good socks, a windstopper jacket.

So you want me to impress you? I don’t know if I can but here goes: I only have two items of bicycle clothing: A no-name tights and a t-shirt with the name of a local MTB team on it. (Pitbull MTB Racing) Thats all I have. Ok, I have other stuff I can wear but they aren’t bicycle clothes. A pair of old jeans or a worn out wool sweater don’t exactly count as cycling apparel. So that’s all I have.


I’ll tell you what, Tayfur. If you’re serious about wanting some used bike clothes, email me; let’s figure something out.

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